Starting Strong with Your High School Career
Why it’s important to plan early
When you’re entering 9th grade, the four years till graduation can seem like a very long way off.
In reality, the time between your freshmen fall semester and your college application due dates is 40 months.
Believe us, the time flies by!
For students looking to attend top universities, these 40 months are going to be packed with a huge list of “to-dos” to accomplish. In order to be a truly competitive candidate for elite colleges, you have to gain top grades, top test scores, and have meaningful extracurricular activities, accolades, letters of recommendation, along with a compelling application essay.
There’s no way to accomplish all of these items unless you start early. Plus, most students want to actually have time left over for a life in high school: friends, experiences, and good memories.
It’s normal to quickly feel overwhelmed, behind, and unprepared.
But all you really need is a plan!
Below is our 9th grade checklist detailing what you should accomplish during your freshmen year and when you should accomplish it. We’ve also included the MEK Review courses that will best help you accomplish these goals. This will help you create a plan and stay on track.
Remember, this is a checklist for top achievers, so always keep in mind your key priorities:
- Your well-being
Grades are the most important factor for college admissions, and your well-being is the most important factor period. This plan should help eliminate stress by dividing 40 months of work more evenly across your four years of high school. You don’t want to end up stressed and overworked during your junior year.
9th Grade Checklist: Before 9th grade
Remember, we said to start early and divide the work over time.
Preparing early and consistently is the key to not becoming overwhelmed during the fall and spring semester. Start your high school career on the right note by entering your freshmen year confident and ready.
With that said, here is your to-do list:
1. Prepare for more rigorous high school Math and Science classes.
Many students struggle with the environment changes, increased expectations, and decreased one-on-one help during high school. Add new and challenging courses to the mix, and you’ll see why many freshmen’s grades dip. Check out our Spring H.S. Honors courses for 8th graders, designed specifically to help future freshmen avoid this problem by learning exemplary Algebra or Algebra II skills. Or review our Summer H.S. Honor courses that teach students up to 60% of the upcoming curriculum in courses such as Geometry, Biology, or Chemistry.
*COVID-19 update: With the upheavals of Spring 2020, and the changes to the Fall 2020/Spring 2021 semesters, it’s even more important for you to feel like you’re building a strong foundation and covering all your basics. This year, we’re offering these honors courses virtually, so you can make sure you stay on track no matter the circumstances!
2. Prepare for high school English and PSAT/SAT Reading and Writing.
Get ready for honors English by writing full-length essays, reading and analyzing a variety of complex texts, and deepening your understanding of core grammar concepts. For instance, MEK Review offers Advanced English for 8th graders in their Spring semester to help them prepare a core foundation and outstanding skills in writing and reading that will make the next 4 years of high school English exponentially easier.
Plus during the summer start preparing for the PSAT and SAT test.
You may be thinking, “Wait. Isn’t it way too early to start?”
Studies show that students who typically do the best on the PSAT or SAT are those who had early exposure to the test. Many of the MEK Review students who take our (P)SAT Core class reach their target SAT score by the end of their sophomore year!
Remember, start early and divide the work over time. (P)SAT Core is a prime example of this concept. Finishing SAT Prep by your sophomore year, frees up significant time in your junior year to complete the many other tasks you need for your college application.
Plus, SAT prep boosts student’s reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing skills, and grammar and mechanics — all essential skills needed for honors English
*Covid-19 update: Even with many colleges becoming test-optional, high SAT and ACT scores are still very important if you want to apply to competitive colleges. They are another way to show a college your exemplary academic skills.
3. Create strong study habits
Another skill we focus on in our H.S. Honors classes is teaching students how to take notes, how to study, and how to master more dense and difficult material. These are each key skills students have to develop in high school.
Once you know what classes you’ll be taking freshmen year, it’s time to create a solid routine. Map out a schedule of all the classes, activities, and commitments you have over the course of a week, then schedule when and where you will study or complete assignments for each class. Once the school year begins, you can adjust the plan as needed. But coming to the first day of class with a plan already in mind is a great way to start!
9th Grade Checklist: Fall – 5 months
In your first semester of high school, it’s crucial you start off strong in your grades and accomplishments. You don’t want to have to play catch up during your junior and senior year. Fall Semester is when the 40 months officially begins!
1. Boost Your GPA
Your attention should be completely focused on your grades. Make sure you read the syllabus, talk to your teachers, and write down all relevant information in your student planner. You should have a crystal clear idea of the homework, tests, and expectations required for each class.
If you are struggling any area, get help right away! Don’t wait. For example, check out MEK’s School Support tutoring program.
2. Build a Strong Foundation
Make sure you have a strong core understanding of each new topic you encounter in the classroom. If you’re fuzzy on an idea or feel like you’re groping in the dark, it will affect your grades eventually. Academic topics build upon one another, so you want to make sure you have a strong base. If you feel weak in certain core academic areas such as math, reading, or writing, take advantage of one-on-one tutoring at MEK.
COVID-19 update: This advice is more important than ever. Any gaps in your foundation will only grow to become a bigger problem later on. If you are struggling in the virtual or hybrid setting of your school’s system, make sure you reach out to your teachers, guidance counselors, and parents for help.
3. Continue PSAT/SAT Prep
Keep building up your familiarity and content mastery of college admission tests.
4. Explore Extracurricular Activities
Now is the time to explore different activities that might interest you. At this point, you don’t have to deeply commit to any of the activities, but you won’t know if you’re passionate about a club, organization, or community service project unless you check them out!
COVID-19 update: Obviously, right now, your choices for extracurricular activities are much, much more limited. Don’t worry! Colleges know this. However, now more than ever, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer, if you seek them out. Plus, look for ways to develop your passions and talents. Interested in engineering? Apply to qualify for a CTY online course! Interested in the humanities? Enter a writing contest.
9th Grade Checklist: Spring – 5 months
1. Boost Your GPA
Always stay focused on maintaining high grades. Adjust your study routine as needed to give yourself more time to focus on areas of struggle. Check out our 3 Secrets to Getting and Keeping a Top GPA for more tips and tricks.
2. Build a Strong Foundation
Keep working on building a strong academic foundation. Continue with MEK School Support Tutoring if you need help in certain areas.
3. Take SAT Subject Biology
If you’re interested in the STEM field, this is your chance to check off your first college admission tests.
To become a competitive candidate for top schools, you have to take more than just the SAT or ACT. SAT Subject tests will help you to successfully showcase your skills and passion in specific fields. Many freshmen take Biology their first year of high school, so the June SAT is the perfect time to take the SAT Bio test.
Subject tests are notoriously difficult though, so explore our SAT Subject Prep classes and give yourself plenty of time to adequately prepare.
4. Continue Exploring Extracurricular Activities
Your high school will undoubtedly offer more options for extracurricular activities. Make sure you keep exploring the different events and competitions in which you can participate.
Next Steps for Success
Complete these items and you’ve set yourself up for success over the remaining 3 years! If you’re struggling in a certain area – grades, test prep, study habits – MEK Review is here to guide you every step of the way.
Up next! 10th grade checklist